An Organizer for a State-Level Skeptic Group in the U.S.

Today, rather than being quiet, it’s time to return to Tim Farley’s list of people who shouldn’t be on The Block Bot because they have credentials. In case you need a refresher on that list:

  • A Research Fellow for a U.S. think-tank who is also deputy editor of a national magazine, and author of numerous books
  • A Consultant for Educational Programs for a U.S. national non-profit
  • A long-time volunteer for the same national non-profit
  • An organizer for a state-level skeptic group in the US
  • A past president of a state-level humanist group in the US
  • A former director of a state-level atheist group in the US
  • An Emmy and Golden Globe award winning comedian
  • A TED Fellow
  • Co-founder of a well known magazine of philosophy and author of several books
  • A philosopher, writer and critic who has authored several books

Tom Foss has already done a thorough job on the idea of creating such a list, but I’ve found value in providing specific details. Don’t worry. This won’t be as epic as the last one, in part because I’ve already visited Travis Roy’s online behavior once.

Travis Roy is the co-founder and organizer for the Granite State Skeptics. He is also, under his Twitter handle of @Sc00ter, listed in Level 3 (“annoying”) of The Block Bot. I think the behavior shown in my prior post is plenty to have him be classed as annoying, but there was a conversation that happened earlier today on Facebook that demonstrated why anyone might be wary of interacting with Roy.

For background, you’ll want to know that Melody Hensley, director of Center for Inquiry’s Washington D.C. branch, was recently diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). She had previously been diagnosed in December with Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) after being harassed online in various places including YouTube and Twitter. When her symptoms didn’t resolve in a brief period of time with medication and therapy, the diagnosis was changed to reflect that.

Melody continues to deal with the disorder with medication and therapy, and she continues to work after a brief leave to deal with the start of treatment (some of these medications have rough adjustment periods) and to allow her to avoid the source of the stress completely for a time. She coordinated this year’s Women in Secularism in the middle of a medication change, and none of the issues at the conference were issues of organization.

Following the lead of several people in the secular movement, Melody’s been open about having a mental illness and treating it. What she hasn’t said to more than friends (and yes, I’m saying this with her express permission) is that she has a history of traumatic events in her life. She came through physical, sexual, and emotional abuse in some of her closest relationships with a resilience that surprised mental health professionals. She came through foster care to become executive director of a CFI branch. She was not just surviving, but thriving. Then she was targeted personally and professionally online. Now she has a mental illness that she is actively coping with.

Part of Melody’s openness about this mental illness has been commentary on how important The Block Bot has been to her in shielding her from additional harassment. That openness led to this:

Screen capture of Travis Roy's Facebook discussion. Text provided in the post.

Travis Roy: How does somebody that a director of an activist organization, that battles nasty people on a regular basis, get PTSD from twitter..

Text from picture of tweets:

@krelnik: NEW POST: Skeptools blog reviews The Block Bot and finds it somewhat lacking in its current form. #ReportAbuse

@MelodyHensley: @krelnik Some “well respected ppl” have harassed me. Relieved to have the BB. There are reasons why so many ppl want those accounts blocked.

‏@AtheistFeline: @MelodyHensley @krelnik The prob is the bot is now public and being exposed to people that have nothing to do with the in-fighting atheists

@MelodyHensley: @AtheistFeline @krelnik This isn’t about infighting. It’s about harassment. I have PTSD because of this. My life isn’t the same.

Claus Larsen: Diagnosed and all?

Now, *that* is something we need to see evidence of.

Linley Kissick: Twatter is a war zone.

So, upthread I linked to information about both ASD and PTSD. If you’re one of the people who think you have to have been in battle to have have acquired PTSD, it’s time to study up. PTSD (not even just ASD) affects about 2.5% of the U.S. population. Any strong perceived threat–to you or to a loved one–can trigger it, and one of the major risk factors is not receiving social support after the trauma. [Update: And yes, although I shouldn’t have to single this out as being a strong perceived threat, there is plenty of scientific evidence that harassment can lead to PTSD.] Do you think anything about this conversation even just so far, looks like social support?

Screen capture of Travis Roy's Facebook discussion. Text provided in the post.

Travis Roy: Claus – Asking for that is a bit much, only because that would be medical records.. But, I wonder what CFI thinks of this, because social media is sort of a big chunk of her job.

Jordan Stanley: yes im skeptical of it

Richard Murray: PTSD. I wonder what else she’s self-diagnosed in herself.

Richard Murray: Travis – well, she’s forced to use twitter by the patriarchal elite in CFI…

Claus Larsen: Travis,

It would not just be up to CFI, her employer, but also herself. If she doesn’t feel she is capable of doing her job, she should step down, and leave it to someone else.

Time to stop again. Having PTSD or any mental illness does not mean that a person isn’t capable of doing a high-profile or even high-stress job. Someone like Melody, who developed coping mechanisms that allowed her to withstand appalling abuse, is used to functioning under stress. Don’t ever assume a person with a mental illness isn’t capable of something just because you don’t know how you’d handle it.

Joseph Swam: If only people would stop disagreeing with her…

Maria Maltseva: Why was she ever hired? Aside from anything else, she’s completely incompetent.

Oh, really? Have you accomplished this much?

Richard Murray: Maria: maybe CFI has a quota system to ensure a certain level o drama?

Travis Roy: Should I tag CFI leadership here?

Claus Larsen: She may not have been incompetent when she was hired. People change.

Screen capture of Travis Roy's Facebook discussion. Text provided in the post.

Shane Greenup: What I don’t understand here is why she is so keen on blocking people now that it will block for many people, but couldn’t block the people who were harrassing her when it would only affect her? Twitter does have a block feature already doesn’t it?

Or for that matter, if it is PTSD level – stop using Twitter? I don’t think Twitter is worth serious mental issues….

Maria Maltseva: She’s also, petty, catty, and divisive. A woman like that wouldn’t last a day in a law firm or any other professional field. I’m thinking there was a quota, but I’m not sure it was for drama. (Not that I object to affirmative action necessarily, but if this is the result?)

When people change, in today’s economy, they get fired. But she can’t be. CFI is absolutely stuck with her, despite at-will employment.

Torkel Ødegård: I’m no psychological expert but to get PTSD don’t you have to have had some SERIOUSLY bad trauma happening? Isn’t that why most sufferers are war vets? I sincerely doubt Twitter is as bad as a real life war zone. And if you think it is, you need professional help.

Maria Maltseva: @Shane — She did block everyone who followed certain people before the blockbot and made a fuss about whom some of her friends were following. I was blocked by her at that time despite never communicating with her or talking about her in any way.

Claus Larsen: Yes, tag it. It is crucial that they know one of their employees have gotten PTSD from doing their job.

In fact, this is a case for the government body that handles occupational diseases.

Richard Murray: @shane – she claims that twitters block doesn’t work for her, perhaps because it’s a misogynist.

Or, you know, the platform on which she was using Twitter was buggy. I’ve blocked people before only to get another message, showing that Twitter hadn’t accepted the call properly. This is the company whose “oops” icon became an instantly recognizable internet meme.

Screen capture of Travis Roy's Facebook discussion. Text provided in the post.

Joseph Swam: I was called a cunt on Twitter just last night. I thought I was coming down with a case of PTSD, but then I realized she was from London. I’m better now.

Richard Murray: Maria imagine if CFI DID fire her… The Skepchick petitions would cripple the entire CFI organization!

Maria Maltseva: The problem I’ve noticed lately is that there’s plenty of real misogyny that goes on in the groups that are against A+ and similar. It makes me wonder where the rational people are — the ones who realize that people of different genders need to get along and live together. And that no two people are the same, though we should all be of equal worth and have equal rights.

So Maria knows this is a problem, even among the people who like her, but she can’t accept that it caused any problems for Melody. Okay.

Claus Larsen: Maria,

It’s not a question of firing her: If she has gotten PTSD from doing her job, she cannot fulfill her obligations. She is probably entitled to compensation from CFI.

Richard Murray: I allege she had pre-existing PTSD from being born a drama queen

@xinit0, Block Bot Level 3. May be due for an upgrade.

Torkel Ødegård: Hensley blocked me because I followed Elevatorgate. Only reason I started following Elevatorgate was because she said she was blocking anybody who followed him. She blocked me, I unfollowed Elevatorgate the next day!

Maria Maltseva: I did the exact same thing! Although I never unfollowed. Whom I follow is not an endorsement of their views.

Joseph Swam: @Maria – That’s a difficult concept for people to grasp. I don’t know why. Many of us like hearing different POVs.

Here’s a link to @ElevatorGATE, Block Bot, Level 1, “worst of the worst”, currently calling himself “Smellody Schwyzer”. Take a look.  Figure out how long you’d want to see that point of view.

Screen capture of Travis Roy's Facebook discussion. Text provided in the post.

Torkel Ødegård: Well I unfollowed because I don’t really care all that much what the guy has to say.

Maria Maltseva: And my follow list is not gonna be determined by some ridiculous and irrelevant drama queen at CFI. If that sounds a bit harsh, then so be it.

Travis Roy: Tagging Ronald Lindsay and Barry Karr

Yeah, he really did that. He tagged Melody’s boss and, essentially, CFI’s #2 honcho to tell them that their employee has a mental illness. They know this, of course. Melody had a leave of absence for the ASD. She’s told them she has PTSD. She’s talked about it on social media they see. But in case they hadn’t known, Travis Roy decided it was his job to tell them about Melody’s medical information.

Richard Murray: Maybe they need a Follow Bot that tells them who to follow. Then an RT bot to tell them which petitions to retweet…

Torkel Ødegård: Richard Murray, I don’t think a Skepchick petition against CFI would do much harm to them. Remember last time Watson called for a boycott of CFI where she encouraged CFI employees to quit their job? Not even Hensley herself followed Watson’s career advice! Greta Christina called out support for the boycott and immediately went back to CFI the instant they even hinted at some kind of apology.

Richard Murray: Torkel – that’s my point – that Skepchick doesn’t have the power they think they do to direct…

Torkel Ødegård: Oh, you were being ironic… My bad!

Maria Maltseva: Freethought — it doesn’t mean what you think it means. Buy your ThoughtBot here.

And in case any of you, like Maria, haven’t figured out what “freethought” means yet, here.

Katie Graham: Wow!! That’s bold. A symptom of PTSD is avoiding situations or places related to the traumatic event. The fuck is she doing on twitter if twitter gave her a mental illness?

Avoidance is a symptom of PTSD, yes. That doesn’t mean, however, that everyone who has PTSD has exactly the same symptoms. It also doesn’t mean that everyone defines what is related to their trauma the same way. For anyone who hasn’t given much thought to the topic that Melody was discussing in her tweets, Twitter using The Block Bot is a very different experience from Twitter without it. There have been more than 50 ugly tweets aimed at Melody since she made it public that she has PTSD (many of which would be right at home in Roy’s Facebook conversation). She’s seen almost none of them.

Screen capture of Travis Roy's Facebook discussion. Text provided in the post.

Maria Maltseva: I’m not sure Ronald A. Lindsay should have to deal with this nonsense. As far as I can see, his hands are tied, and I feel he’s already been put through too much for simply saying it like it is. How was he supposed to know that some people require special treatment? Until I encountered the new & improved Skepchicks, I wasn’t aware of this. And this reminds me, I still haven’t bought my membership to the CFI, and I need to do so. Overall, it’s a good organization and I support its work. Including its work for women’s rights.

Joseph Swam: I think that’s one of those “chicken or egg” questions.

Richard Murray: If she were relieved of duty, I can just see the way that would be framed.

Maria Maltseva: Exactly.

Maria Maltseva: In reality, she has been called some horrible things that I would also be very hurt by. But sadly, I would expect those things to be said about me if I held a public position. Which I don’t and which I’ve never sought. But in this drama I’ve been called all the same things anyway. Everything from my looks to my mental health has been commented on after the doxxing.

Maria is the person who made her mental health a topic of discussion, before her address was dropped into a thread on the old XBlog then deleted by Greg once he knew it was there. Her appearance may have been discussed there; her tendency to take post lots of portraits of herself definitely was. The people who were discussing that were told it was not appropriate. That’s one thread, more than a year ago. People, including Maria, are still saying ugly things about Melody as of today. The difference in volume, duration, and social support is important.

Claus Larsen: CFI has to act on this, regardless, and swiftly. There is no way CFI can have an employee diagnosed with PTSD she has acquired doing her job, at least not in the capacity she has now.

They could not only face serious charges (neglect, etc), it is a Public Relations disaster waiting to go off. When the media picks up on this – as they should – CFI better have a solution ready.

Screen capture of Travis Roy's Facebook discussion. Text provided in the post.

Maria Maltseva: They can’t fire her; they can provide her with counseling (and they very well may be doing so now), and they can change her duties if that’s what she desires. That seems to me like the best course of action. Or, alternatively, she can just install the super-effective BlockBot and all will be well.

As long as she never mentions that she’s using it or why. Then this happens.

Claus Larsen: They have to change her duties, whether she likes it or not. If she has a break-down due to her PTSD, while doing her duties, it will be CFIs responsibility, since they know about it, and how it happened.

Maria Maltseva: But she was hired to interface with the public and organize events. It seems she either had a preexisting condition that prevented her from doing so effectively or she’s simply incapable of doing her job. Was she aware of her condition before she was hired? (Apparently not.) Were the potential risks and harms associated with the job explained to her before she was hired? In a legal sense, these things may matter. In a public relations sense, I think I see the next drama explosion coming. Unless the issue is just dropped and left to the CFI, which perhaps it should be.

Melody was diagnosed with ASD in December. She’s been working for CFI for years. That is not a pre-existing condition.

Maria Maltseva: The worst interpretation, of course, is that women are incapable of doing such a job, which is what MRA-types take away from this. Which is why I see the Skepchicks and drama-bloggers as such a huge liability.

Richard Murray: OR she’s minimizing what PTSD is for people who’ve actually encountered hardships… not some First World version of PTSD where the barista made your drink with SKIM instead of 2% milk…

Maria Maltseva: A million times what you just said, Richard.

Maria Maltseva: Also, I prefer skim.

Screen capture of Travis Roy's Facebook discussion. Text provided in the post.

Richard Murray: Maria then, imagine they used FULL FAT! OMG!

See that part back up at the top of this post that describes everything Melody developed the skills and resources to deal with just fine. If you want to live through even some significant fraction of that, maybe then you can make a case for why it’s appropriate to sneer about milk fat.

Claus Larsen: I have a hard time seeing a person working with public relations, if she needs trigger warnings, before people can communicate with her.

When you work in public relations, you have to have rhino skin.

Torkel Ødegård: Claus, is that a fat joke?

Claus Larsen: *Skin*. Besides, rhinos aren’t fat.

Richard Murray: I think Claus is saying that only ugly women with leathery skin can be taken seriously…

Richard Murray: “big boned”

Maria Maltseva: Oh, do stop! I’m going to faint from all this raging misogyny. 🙂

Maria Maltseva: Full fat milk is obscene. I prefer to get my fat from ice cream.

Mary Ellen Sikes: Because of public shaming like this, simply for sharing personal information.

Now is the time to place any bets you’d like on how someone entering the conversation to stand up for Melody will be treated.

Richard Murray: Public shaming?

Screen capture of Travis Roy's Facebook discussion. Text provided in the post.

Maria Maltseva: Non-sequitur?

Maria Maltseva: I bet I can translate, though. I think Mary Ellen Sikes is referring to the existence of threads like this one, which make Hensley’s job even more traumatic, just because Hensley decided to share private information about her PTSD. That’s my guess, anyway. This line of argument overlooks the fact that someone involved in public relations and conference organization should be capable of performing the tasks related to public relations without making an embarrassing spectacle of herself.

Richard Murray: Oh please… Hensley has all of us blocked by now, no?

Mary Ellen Sikes: Graciously enduring threats, harassment, and public ridicule on a personal level (as opposed to criticism related to an organization’s mission) are not part of the job description for public relations, event organizing, or any other duty of a nonprofit employee.

Richard Murray: Yes, because A) Melody has PTSD due to people tweeting her and B) PTSD is something of a minor inconvenience, not a traumatic disorder.

Maria Maltseva: Is making fun of a fellow skeptic for being shoe-obsessed gracious? Is asking people to falsely flag videos on YouTube gracious? Is blocking people at random gracious? In my opinion, it is not. And if you’re doing your job poorly, you will be criticized. I am not defending the sexist and otherwise horrid comments that have been lobbed Melody’s way, but I will say that similar comments have also been thrown my way by her friends and supporters. And my job is not dealing with the public. In fact, before this incident, I didn’t even know who Hensley was or that prominent people within the skeptic movement would specifically search out my name to publicly shame me and try to destroy my career.

Melody didn’t make fun of anyone for being shoe-obsessed. She did ask people to report this video for bullying. Go ahead. Watch it. Decide whether labeling it bullying is false or not. Blocking people who want to see what ElevatorGATE is tweeting is hardly “at random”. I will assume that this thread documenting that Maria’s was spreading damaging lies about someone else is what she means by “try to destroy my career”. For the record, she’s still been telling those lies, even knowing that the documentation and her admission that what she said is wrong exist.

Mary Ellen Sikes: I see that you haven’t answered my response to your statement about the legitimate duties of a nonprofit leader, Maria Maltseva

Richard Murray: I think one of the, albeit unstated, duties of a nonprofit ‘leader’ is to not moan publicly about how one is mentally unfit to accomplish the stated duties of the role.

This is fascinating, because not once in this whole thread, in which Melody’s employers were told she had a mental illness, did anyone name any duty at which Melody had failed. This is pure assumption, based on the fact that she has a mental illness.

Screen capture of Travis Roy's Facebook discussion. Text provided in the post.

Katie Graham: Her twitter is her personal twitter which she doesn’t use in any professional manner (though it can be debated whether her behavior on social media reflects on her job, it would be a mistake for CFI to take that position). This question about the perimeters of her job not including the exchanges she’s had on twitter is completely irrelevant, Sikes.

Maria Maltseva: Mary Ellen Sikes: One of the duties of a leader in a politically charged non-profit organization is dealing effectively with the public, and it does, in fact, require having a thick skin. Imagine, for example, if Hillary Clinton behaved the way Hensley does. Would she still be qualified for her job? Of course not, and no one would vote for her. Hensley does not come across as a professional in any way, and she is an embarrassment to her organization. As a counterexample, I believe that Debbie Goddard (a Skepchick!) does her job well.

Behave how? Again, aside from the false charges above, nothing about Melody’s actual performance has been cited.

Mary Ellen Sikes: It may in fact be irrelevant – it is simply a point someone made, to which I responded. [And seriously Katie Graham: “Sikes?” Nice way to address someone you don’t know. I go by Mary Ellen generally, FWIW, even though IRL most young people call me Ms. Sikes until I suggest they use my first name.]

Maria Maltseva: Referring to people you don’t know by last name only is common in the legal profession, FWIW. That said, it probably wouldn’t be my choice when addressing someone directly. Do you consider the use of your last name to address you to be harassment? If not, is it worth mentioning? Why?

Mary Ellen Sikes: Sorry, Maria Maltseva – having a “thick skin” with regard to being personally threatened and harassed (again, as opposed to criticism related to the organization’s work) is not part of any job requirement, stated or unstated. I find your comparison of a nonprofit employee with Hillary Clinton, however, amusing.

Katie Graham: I don’t think I need lessons in civility from a person who’s organization rejected an online civility pledge. LOL

Screen capture of Travis Roy's Facebook discussion. Text provided in the post.

Mary Ellen Sikes: Gosh, Maria, I’m glad you had time to explain the use of last names to me. I hadn’t noticed that. (Is this a legal thread? I thought it was Facebook.)

Mary Ellen Sikes: I see Katie Graham that you prefer to divert the topic when you’re challenged.

Katie Graham: Everything is harassment, Maria. She’s descibing Melody being personally threatened and harassed. You know what I said that was “threatening and harassing” to Melody Hensley? Basically I said, “You know, what you said to Sara was pretty sexist itself.”

I quote, “Melody Hensley, professional twitter victim”; “I couldn’t make this shit up. Hensley has become a parody of herself. This is who CFI puts in executive positions?”; “I decided to tweet Melody Hensley to see if she had any idea that what she was doing is sexual harassment.”; “I’d just like to let you know that I am shocked and appalled that the Director of CFI-DC would participate in the sexual harassment of a woman on twitter…I hope you treat this situation with as much seriousness as it deserves.”

Maria Maltseva: Right, and I saw nothing uncivil in the way Katie addressed you, Ms. Sikes. If this is the type of thing you find harassing, then yes, it’s part of Hensley’s job to deal with it. Also, do you consider the government to be a for-profit organization?

Katie Graham: I see that you take one comment and generalize it to be some kind of indicator of my behavior as a whole, everywhere. No wonder the Secular Census was such a joke.

Mary Ellen Sikes: Where did I describe being called by my last name as harassment? Some of you make incredible generalizations here.

Katie Graham: That’s neither here nor there, anyway. Melody Hensley, as a person, is a jerk, plain and simple and when she got called out for being a “Mean Girl,” she feigned harassment.

Or, you know, in the midst of watching her friends deal with a deluge of harassment and enabling of that deluge by people in prominent position, she said something stupid, then thought better of it and deleted it. Then she didn’t do it again, even as the harassers turned to her personally.

Maria Maltseva: Asking a question is not making a generalization. I was simply wondering why you thought it worthy of bringing up.

Screen capture of Travis Roy's Facebook discussion. Text provided in the post.

Mary Ellen Sikes: That’s a different argument than the others being made. Lots of diversion happening here, all in answer to one question of Travis’s. When one point is too difficult to answer, some apparently feel the need to resort to personal attacks or changing the subject. OK, I get it now.

Richard Murray: …and when feigned harassment doesn’t return the expected sympathy, feign mental illness.

It’s “feigned harassment”, huh? Try looking at the records “investigative journalist” ElevatorGATE has kept of things people said to her on Twitter. Look at what comes up when you search for her name on YouTube. Look at the “parody” account set up on Twitter. Then explain why that doesn’t count as harassment. Explain why it doesn’t create a threatening environment.

And that’s quite enough of that. There was more nonsense about Hillary Clinton, and Mary Ellen left the discussion. Sara Mayhew showed up. More crap was said.

So, back to The Block Bot. Aside from Mary Ellen, is there anyone in this conversation you’d want to see on Twitter, much less the person who started and hosted it and made sure to contact Ron Lindsay and Barry Karr?

An Organizer for a State-Level Skeptic Group in the U.S.

71 thoughts on “An Organizer for a State-Level Skeptic Group in the U.S.

  1. 5

    But in case they hadn’t known, Travis Roy decided it was his job to tell them about Melody’s medical information.

    Didn’t he decide it was his job to tell them [Lindsey and Karr] a bunch of yahoos on Facebook’s poorly informed perception of what her medical information is? What I read in this horrifying exchange is “I don’t know what PTSD is so there’s no way she really has it” and “I don’t really know what her job is, but she obviously can’t be doing it correctly” and “We obviously know better how to run CFI despite us not knowing a thing about running CFI.”

  2. 6

    I merely want to salute Melody Hensley for being so open about her mental health problems. Stigma is (obviously) still a very real problem.

    I know I’m not willing to be so public about my own mental health issues, and I certainly can’t imagine doing it on such a large stage. Particularly with people with so little empathy, understanding, or basic decency salivating at every opportunity they can find to hurt people.

    It’s not hard to see why people don’t want to have anything to do with them. They’re horrible people.

  3. 7

    Is making fun of a fellow skeptic for being shoe-obsessed gracious? Is asking people to falsely flag videos on YouTube gracious? Is blocking people at random gracious? In my opinion, it is not. And if you’re doing your job poorly, you will be criticized.

    Boy, what a lot of idiocy there to unpack.

    Is making fun of a fellow skeptic for being shoe-obsessed gracious?

    A joke. Two years ago. Withdrawn almost immediately. This Facebook exchange, documented here, is far nastier than that ancient, withdrawn joke.

    Funny how it’s OK to pester somebody interminably, and discuss their mental health issues, and one ancient joke is supposed to justify your sadism.

    Is asking people to falsely flag videos on YouTube gracious?

    “Falsely” flag? Erm–I don’t know the details, but I’ve no doubt the value judgement here is arguable. In any case, surely these Skeptical™ paragons of FREEZE PEACH aren’t still confused about the meaning of Free Speech? Surely they don’t still think it means they’re free to harass others using any non-governmental platform they desire? Surely they aren’t against others freely expressing *their* opinions of YouTube videos, are they? Are they?

    Then again, said self-styled paragons have had an awfully difficult time grasping the fact that actual “free speech” doesn’t mean freedom to post anything anywhere. Nor does it imply that others are required to listen to you. Speaking of which–

    Is blocking people at random gracious?

    Wut? It’s “ungracious” to block people? The “gracious” are required to spend their time listening to whoever wishes to engage them? People have a right to not be blocked?

    The stupid and the hypocritical, they burn. The goggles do nothing.

  4. 9

    [Tim Farley]
    But don’t you dare put those people on a Block Bot list! Why, my calculations show that they have each achieved at least 27,000 Skeptic Experience Points, which makes them all Level 7 Skeptics or higher, and it clearly says on page 95 of the Skeptic’s Handbook that Level 7 Skeptics gain Immunity From BlockBot!

    Besides… they haven’t done anything to me.
    [/Tim Farley]

  5. 11

    Wow. Just wow. Do these people think they are skeptics? they made a lot of assumptions: they didn’t look at what kind of and how many messages Melody Hensley received, they obviously don’t know the symptoms of PTSD. Then they assume she can’t do her job because of PTSD without looking at any performance measures. I can think of so much more to write, but I am just appalled at the lack of any empathy at all.

  6. 12

    The ignorance on display there about mental illness and the abilities of those who are affected by it is simply astounding.

    They throw out the stereotypes and make assumptions about the individual in the same way that racists and homophobes do.

  7. 14

    This is so, so gross. And it’s telling how evidence-free the entire discussion is. No one has any actual information about PTSD, Melody’s job, the scope of the harassment, whether or not it’s actually “feigned,” etc., but they all feel super-qualified to pass summary judgments on the whole thing. Is this what the skeptical movement has generated? People who feel like they can knowledgeably pontificate on any subject based on half-remembered stereotypes and uncritically-absorbed memes? Isn’t this the exact opposite of what skepticism is supposed to be?

    Stephanie, if you continue to do this series (and I think we’d all understand if you don’t), I’d be curious what you make of “A Research Fellow for a U.S. think-tank who is also deputy editor of a national magazine, and author of numerous books.” I only know of one guy who would fit that bill, and curiously enough, he’s not on the block list. So either he got removed between Farley’s casual glance of research and actual posting, or Farley’s seeing what he expects from a preconceived notion that the Block Bot is just for people who have disagreed with the Atheism+ crowd.

  8. 16

    Ah. I guess I never thought of CSI as a “think tank.” And clearly that guy’s never done anything annoying.

    (Warning for that second link: You may want to scrub your browser after visiting. It’s a piece by Radford, but he’s deleted it from his site…though not before allowing it to be reposted on the page of a real winner).

  9. 18


    I’m probably missing something, but is there an easy way that I can actually view the lists of who is on level 1/2/3?

    I don’t use twitter, though I have a twitter account. I installed the bot (I believe) but still have no idea how/where to view the actual block lists.

    I use a screenreader, so it’s very possible there’s a perfectly obvious graphical link somewhere for the sighted, but absent alt-text so I’ve missed it.

    If someone could give either a direct link, or short precise instructions, I’d really appreciate it.

  10. 20

    As a person working on a Psychology graduate degree and as a veteran, the rampant assumptions about PTSD makes me weep. Suffice it to say, pretty much everything they state about it is wrong.

  11. 21

    a) Holy shit, what the fuck.

    b) So…

    Torkel Ødegård: Well I unfollowed because I don’t really care all that much what the guy has to say.

    Maria Maltseva: And my follow list is not gonna be determined by some ridiculous and irrelevant drama queen at CFI.

    Melody said she’d block anyone who followed ElevatorGATE, presumably on the rationale that if you want to read everything it puts out then you’re not someone she wants to see tweets from. Seems reasonable enough. On this basis, two people who claim to have no interest in what ElevatorGATE tweets follow it, one of them just long enough to be blocked by Melody, the other staying following to this day. Because that’s not letting someone else determine your follow list?

    How does someone get to the point of such childish tantrum-throwing, and talk about it afterwards, and not realize how ridiculous they’ve made themselves? Another case, I guess, of someone saying “if you’re doing this, I don’t want to know you” and them hearing only “I want to tell you, personally, what to do, because you’re that important to me”.

  12. 23

    Tom Foss @14:

    People who feel like they can knowledgeably pontificate on any subject based on half-remembered stereotypes and uncritically-absorbed memes?

    I almost put a line very similar to this in my comment, though I was going to snarkily mention that it takes a lot of talent to manage it. I think I was going to use “authoritatively pontificate”, though.

  13. 24

    The whine about “Randomly blocking people!” lays bare the real grievance. If you dislike Melody Hensley so much, if you think she’s “catty” and a “drama queen” and incompetent… WHY do you still want to talk to her on Twitter? Why the fuck do you *care* if she blocked you? Especially when, in the very same thread!, you complained that she shouldn’t be able to dictate who you do and do not follow.

    This is a very “I’m swinging my arms, not *trying* to hit you, so if you get hit it’s your fault!” level of playground logic. Melody Hensley didn’t tell *anyone* who to follow or not. She said, “If you follow A, I will do B.” She has that right. So… again, WHY do you care? Because, obviously, you want to keep harassing her, I’m sorry, “engaging in honest and open debate”, and you resent that she took her ball and went home. Dicks.

  14. Pen

    Sorry, I could only get through about half of that but I noticed they think:
    1) Twitter just is an abusive environment, and the moral imperative is to deal with it, not change it.
    2) Melody’s job includes taking abuse. I thought an employer was legally obliged to arrange an abuse free environment by every means at their disposal.

  15. 26

    Also wanted to note the laughable irony of complaining that someone is a “catty, divisive drama queen” while engaging in snarky, unkind, and flat-out untrue speculations about that person’s mental health, competence, and ability to handle their professional responsibilities for several pages/hours of Facebook comments. Yeah, *she’s* definitely the one addicted to catty drama. Not you guys. You are all so *above* that kind of shit.

  16. 28

    Claus, not only do I have a problem with almost everything you wrote, most of what you advocated for amounts to illegal discrimination against someone with disabilities under U.S. law.

  17. 30

    I could. I won’t. I don’t need to waste my time on you and your infamously obtuse and pedantic arguments. If your goal is actually to learn more about U.S. employment law and how it relates to disability, you know how to find Google.

  18. 31


    Since you won’t tell me which things I wrote that you have a problem with, and which you don’t,
    or what I advocated would amount to illegal discrimination against someone with disabilities under U.S. law, and what would not, I cannot know what you mean, and thus, cannot change my views accordingly.

    I cannot even apologize, since I don’t know what I did wrong.

  19. 33

    But, Stephanie, how can Claus become a better person if you don’t lay out for him, in minute detail, what he did wrong!!!??!

    Sarcasm is all I have left for this.

  20. 34

    Google is just too active for Claus, Stephanie. He was thinking that maybe you could arrange for something much more passive, perhaps a Matrix-style upload that will automatically erase his propensity toward outlandish ignorance and replace it with, you know, facts and and stuff.

    But let’s be real here: Even if you could do something that cool, he would no doubt opt out because it would mean having to cop to the, you know, facts and stuff.

  21. 35

    I am so happy that Melody is speaking out about this and you are helping to expose what people in the community are saying about mental illness. Until this shit stops, I hope I can participate in more discussion about mental health and how we deal with it in our community.

    I cannot understand why Melody’s position at CFI is expected to be one which regularly receives abuse. I understand receiving complaints and crap from people not within the target audience of CFI. But why do these people feel that being abused about your mental health is expected!? My brain aches trying to even come up with an answer.

  22. 36

    All of that and then in comes Claus begging for yet another boring nit-pick battle because he, personally, wasn’t mentioned by name. What do you want to bet that he’s already made a post somewhere about the “obsessiveness” of this post?

    Christ, the whole thing is why I have nothing to do with my local groups any more. The smug ignorance got a little too thick.

  23. 37

    As I mentioned on twitter, I like to think of Claus as one of those people who needs three independent verifications to believe it’s possible that he’s put on pants today.

  24. 38

    I won’t point out the hypocrisy of the subject of this post blocking me on Facebook after we got into an argument on a friend’s wall. The subject of was the aforementioned TED fellow and what a biased person I was for wanting to block her hashtag spamming (with bonus pile-on from Barbara Drescher, who has no idea who I am, but accused me of having a double standard and followed that up with obscenities).

    Oh wait, I guess I just did.

  25. 40

    Larsen, do you live in the United States? All citizens of a country are obligated to know the laws they live under. You cannot be excused from committing a crime through ignorance, even if the laws are not explicitly provided to you; building codes are a prime example. If you are a US citizen then you are obligated to know US law, and thus know whether or not you violate it. Zvan has no moral imperative to fulfill your obligations on your behalf, and asking her to do so shows either ignorance or false entitlement.

  26. 42

    It also strikes me that Larsen is pulling an odd argument from authority:

    1. Stephanie Zvan is the sole reliable expert for what I did wrong.
    2. Zvan cannot produce a convincing argument that my actions were wrong.
    3. Therefore, I cannot know what I did was wrong.
    4. I cannot be held accountable for what I do not know.
    5. Therefore, I cannot be held accountable for any wrong I unknowingly committed.
    6. Therefore, no behaviour change or self-reflection is necessary on my part.

    If it weren’t for that first premise, he’d have a pretty solid argument.

  27. 43

    So, Ms. Zvan, why is it that knowledge of my prior traumatic experiences didn’t stop your and Greg Laden’s harassment of me? Also, quit lying. Your dishonesty is documented, libelous, and shameless. Harassment of me included doxxing by Laden (yes, he did that); four separate posts by Laden about me containing multiple lies, comments on my Facebook photos, name-calling with gendered slurs of the worst variety, the disclosure of my home address by a commenter on a post about me written by Laden, the disclosure of private communications, spying on my Facebook account, a dedicated page of harassment on Pharyngula (now removed), harassment on Butterflies and Wheels, and harassment via Twitter. That’s the short list. The harassment has not stopped, although several of those who participated in it early on have apologized.

    Furthermore, if you need the Blockbot just to avoid hearing conversations you don’t want to hear, which are not directed ad you, why do you go spying on other people’s personal Facebook pages? As for Twitter, I follow some 800+ people, mostly at random. Needless to say, I only read the tweets of a select few, who are on a private list. Who is on that list is none of anyone’s business.

    I’m sorry about Melody Hensley’s prior trauma; I didn’t not know about it, as it was not made public. Rather, what was stated was that she got PTSD from the same kind of tweets and harassment we all get. In my mind, her prior experiences do change the situation, as I noted within the Facebook thread above. Also, if she’s doing her job well, and if the CFI believes her behavior is professional, then there’s no problem that requires resolution. So what exactly are you going on about?

  28. 44

    I’m procrastinating on things I should be doing, so I’ll indulge Claus with my perspective. If this is out of line, Stephanie, please delete it.

    So Claus:
    1. Why would you “need to see evidence” of Melody’s PTSD? Is it an extraordinary claim to be diagnosed with PTSD? What sort of evidence are you expecting, medical records? Why would anyone be obligated to show you that evidence? Do you think people would actually lie about this? For what purpose? If someone you agreed with claimed to be diagnosed with PTSD, would you be so similarly doubtful? Or might you begin by expressing sympathy and concern?

    2. What makes you think that someone with PTSD is incapable of doing any particular job? Do you have any information about either the requirements of Melody’s job or the symptoms of her particular case of PTSD that would allow you to pass informed judgments about whether or not she can do the job? Has Melody expressed a concern about her ability to do the job? Do you not trust her to make those decisions for herself, indeed, to be the person best qualified to make said decisions?

    3. What makes you think she’s “incompetent” now, or ever has been? Do you assume that anyone with PTSD is incompetent at any given job? If not, what makes this instance different? Do you see how that statement is patronizing and offensive to anyone with a mental illness, and feeds into the same stigma that would tend to make people more inclined to hide mental illnesses than fake them?

    4. What makes you think Melody’s employer didn’t already know about her disorder (which, as we’ve had noted, they did)? How is it your (or Travis’s) place to inform her employer about her mental illness? What other personal matters do you think would be your business, as an unaffected stranger, to inform someone else’s employer about? Are there any personal matters in your life that you think might not be any of your employer’s business? How would you feel if some stranger on the Internet decided it was their place to inform your employers about your personal or medical issues?

    5. Do you have any evidence for this statement: “If she has gotten PTSD from doing her job, she cannot fulfill her obligations”? Are you qualified to make such a blanket pronouncement? Do you have any reason to think that if Melody couldn’t fulfill her obligations that she wouldn’t resign?

    6. “CFI has to act on this, regardless, and swiftly. There is no way CFI can have an employee diagnosed with PTSD she has acquired doing her job, at least not in the capacity she has now.” Why?

    7. “They have to change her duties, whether she likes it or not.” Which duties, in particular, need to be changed? What makes you a better arbiter of this than Melody or her superiors?

    8. Why should someone in public relations expect to deal with people whose conduct might be triggering? Are you saying that no one with PTSD can work in public relations? Are you saying that people with PTSD have thin skins? Do you have any evidence that public relations workers with PTSD are worse at their jobs or suffer more job-related breakdowns than workers without PTSD?

    That’s just off the top of my head. The implication that’s given by your posts, questions, and pronouncements, Claus, is that people with mental illnesses are incompetent and incapable of managing their symptoms; that CFI and Melody in particular are so incompetent that a stranger in another country with no apparent expertise is better qualified to assess their condition and occupational concerns than anyone actually involved with the situation; that it’s perfectly appropriate to meddle in a stranger’s personal, professional, and medical affairs; and that potentially triggering abuse is just an unavoidable fact of life for public relations workers. And that’s not even including the legal issues, specifically that the ADA would prohibit CFI from discriminating against Melody (or anyone) because of mental illness. Do you see where someone might take issue with those things?

  29. 45

    Maria, you are making demonstrably false and previously documented legal allegations about my behavior and about Greg Laden’s. I am aware of how bar associations view that behavior coming from an attorney. You are as well. Are you prepared to take these allegations back, now, or would you prefer we take the matter up with them?

  30. 46

    I’ve attempted to continue this conversation on Travis’s FB wall and over PM with him. Without his merry band of FB followers he is willing to engage in some honest dialogue (although will not acknowledge accountability with more than a PM “” when asked what good could possibly come of sharing something like this publicly). Unfortunately his friends are the kids our parents worried about our falling in with in high middle school, complete with juvenile tantrums and name-calling, so rational discussion becomes impossible in any venue more public than 1:1. (And yes – I do realize many of you already know this from hard-won experience, so I’m only educating myself here.)

    One of the understandings sorely lacking in this conversation is the risk to freethought organizations *as employers*. When we have people publicly announcing they’ve been told by an organization’s leadership that a certain action will be taken with regard to a certain employee, that essentially amounts to a claim that a supervisor has discussed a private personnel matter outside the organization’s management.

    When we have people tagging an employer about a staff member, implying that they have a special relationship with supervisors and might be privy to confidential personnel matters (or worse, that supervisors have *asked* them to monitor employees for them) — ditto.

    Can you expect an employer to listen to your concern? Absolutely. Nod and smile? Yup. Thank you for your feedback? Sure. Discuss with you actions that will be taken regarding the employee – especially about a matter completely unrelated to any interaction with you? Nope. Sorry.

    Shit like that all too easily grows horns and creates legal problems for nonprofits and their staff members. Don’t go there, people.

    And while I’m at it? Don’t expect employers to accommodate your ignorant prejudices (against disabilities or anything else). Even if they’re backward enough to agree with you, it’s illegal for them to 1. discuss it with you (yes, even if it’s public knowledge); or 2. do anything about it. Yes, this does mean your status as a member or donor takes a back seat to EEO – sorry to break it to you.

  31. 47

    And I see I’ve now been unfriended / blocked by Travis for suggesting that he shouldn’t expect a say in how CFI handles an employee issue, or how an individual deals with a diagnosis (and also for pointing out that inviting public discussions of these things is neither compassionate nor helpful, that there are legal issues involved, and that we should let CFI do its job and Melody plan her recovery). It was said respectfully and nicely, but apparently echo chamber is the only mode that will be tolerated. So much for reason, evidence, facts, and skeptical inquiry. The real game seems to be saving face with the peeps.

  32. 49

    Rather, what was stated was that she got PTSD from the same kind of tweets and harassment we all get.

    Everything Stephanie said was completely accurate. Melody’s PTSD was diagnosed to be as a result of the online harassment she has received.

    We do not all get “the same kind of tweets and harassment”. You know this very well because you yourself referred to the “sexist and otherwise horrid comments that have been lobbed Melody’s way”. I might also add videos, photoshopped images, and parody twitter accounts.

  33. 50

    And for anyone who wants a taste of how blatantly and wantonly Maria has been lying, let me quote her from October 2011: “Also, braniacs, no one had to confirm that I was bluharmony, since it’s on my facebook page and both Ophelia and the Harvard-educated Greggie know it.” What was she responding to? Greg’s statement, “I can’t tell if she is the same person as this crazy person who was using a pseudo on blog threads and simultaneously crushing all over me via email and facebook and slapping me all over the place on various blogs.” followed by “Confirmed: Maria is Blu Harmony.” So much for doxxing.

  34. 51

    Torkel Ødegård: Well I unfollowed because I don’t really care all that much what the guy has to say

    Installing blockbot because I don’t really care about what some annoying ass on the internet has to say is different … how?

  35. 52

    Pretending for the sake of argument that Maria’s description of disagreements she’s been involved in with Greg Laden and others is entirely accurate–how on earth would that justify the sort of mean-spirited nastiness she’s involved in on the comment thread documented in this post?

    Over and over again, a dubious “tu quoque” is the best these folks can come up with to justify their behavior.

  36. 54

    Zvan @50:

    I thought you were going to post this nugget from a year ago, where you show that “doxxing by Laden” is more like “Laden may have been slow to remove someone else’s comment that (probably unintentionally) gave away my home address.” Thanks to that link, though, I now know she’s been pushing the doxxing story for about two years.

    Oddly enough, she’s only at level 3 on the Block Bot. Perhaps she’s trying to climb the charts?

  37. 57

    Bar associations love shit like that from their attorneys.

    This is absolutely not meant as a defense of Maria, but I think you’re way off base with this angle. I don’t think bar associations give a shit about stuff like this, nor should they. Bar discipline is about protecting the public from unethical professional behavior, not adjudicating personal disputes.

    They’ve got their hands full dealing with the hundreds/thousands of their members who screw their clients over by failing to show up in court, blowing the statute of limitations or other deadlines, absconding with client funds, or other serious transgressions.

    Seriously, look over the disciplinary reports published by a bar association some day. Once in a blue moon, you might see action taken for false statements made in a court filing. The idea that a bar association is going to give a damn about something an attorney said in a nonprofessional capacity during a blogospheric flamewar is pretty ludicrous.

  38. 59

    to sum up:

    1)Fuckweasel brigade harasses Melody to the point of giving her an illness

    2)Fuckweasel brigade uses that illness as an argument for why she should be removed from her job, or at least from the parts of her job that involve public outreach

    3)The same fuckweasel brigade has spent the last few years whining about being silenced because people won’t let them spam their twitter feeds/blogs/etc.

    Ok then.

  39. 63

    If I recall correctly, Larsen is German, not that this stopped him from opining on what U.S. employers needed to do.

    Danish, I fear.

  40. 67

    Reading this gave me a headache, the sheer nastiness involved boggles the mind. Upgraded the two to Level2… I see Travis is whining about “Libel” on SkepticInk comments, and that was from being on Level3!

  41. 68

    I couldn’t finish reading it all. It was just too ugly to look at.

    Thanks for sharing it Stephanie. I don’t want these people to be able to do this to Melody or anyone else, unnoticed.

    I don’t want them to do it at all, but at least we know how bad it is.

  42. 71

    Tim, what makes you think people here don’t already know that you’ve addressed the “misunderstanding”?

    Maria… what the hell makes you think that continuing to peddle thee lies, when the truth has been public for years, is going to reflect on you in any positive way?

    In general… I still don’t understand why anyone is worried about an opt-in bot that you can override at any time you want and even recommend people for removal?

    I very literally cannot see the problem with it…

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